How to map a small town?

How can I best map my town and surroundings?

I have looked into other areas and how it’s being mapped there but still, I really wonder how to procede properly. It seems like for many things there’s no consensus on how to map it properly and you can basically decide for yourself.

  • should I map each tree of my town?
  • should I add the hedges and grasses in the backyard (fronyard) of the buildings?

From what I found it says, I can map them but if I map grass my town will be green and not “residential color” anymore and there won’t be any differentiation between residential and industrial area. Some thoughts about how far one should go when mapping would be highly appreciated!

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You can go down the rabbit hole trying to micro map everything, so pick what most interests you and what you think might be most useful for someone who lives in your town or who is visiting it.

I like using OpenStreetMap based maps and apps for navigation so my first pick for town mapping is to make sure the roads are well mapped: That the names on OSM are correct, the geometry is reasonably good, that speed limits are marked. A bonus if turn lanes and turn restrictions are mapped. Now some one can use Organic Maps, Magic Earth, or OsmAnd to give them driving instructions.

But they need to know where to go. So maybe adding “points of interest” (POIs). The post office, the library, shops, cafes and restaurants, etc.

After the major POIs are done, to allow navigation to individual homes walk the streets collecting the house numbers. When you are entering the house numbers you might take some extra time to get the building outlines in.

While you are at that you can practice some detail mapping of trees, walkways, playgrounds, etc. in the local parks.

If you have done all the above (it took me about a year for where I live now with lots of walking) you have a pretty good map and could even just rest on your laurels. Residents and visitors alike will have their expectations of a map pretty well met.

If that is not enough for you then maybe think about starting to micro map things like fire hydrants, power lines, trees, etc.


Excellent advices!

But before you add any objects (streets, houses etc.) you must calibrate the position of the background image you use. Newbies often think the satellite images are correct, but they are not. All satellite images has position errors.


@n76 thank you!

@Msiipola how do I properly correct the imagery offset? I do have a lot of gpx traces from my runs and bike tours but when I load them into josm, I only get a roughly aligned image, not a perfectly aligned one.

How you adjust the background image depends on what editor you use.

See: Using Imagery - OpenStreetMap Wiki


Pro Tip 1: Wear a high visibility vest. You instantly become invisible and do not attract the attention of suspicious neighbours. :wink:

Pro Tip 2: Take lots of pictures (or video) for when adding detail.


@Firefishy not sure if that’s a joke or seriousness or both :joy:

I’ve already got some street signs but not yet sure what to do with them. Are images just for me locally, or should I upload them somewhere?

I thought about mapillary or kartaview for street images when I drive my bike around. In theory it should work but I need to test the ground stabiliztion feature first. I won’t drive my car through each street just to get pictures :sweat_smile:

I do really recommend the high visibility vest while out mapping. Any high visibility vest will do. Alternatively a printed promo leaflet to hand out if stopped by a nosy neighbour can be a good idea.

More here: Flyers and posters - OpenStreetMap Wiki

I use my photos to help me when adding mapping to OpenStreetMap. I find surprising extra detail in the photos later which I didn’t notice when out mapping.

mapillary or kartaview are great and very helpful, but yes… I have struggled getting high detail and stablization clarity with them. Cameras are a lot better than when I last tried.

What to map? Do what you are interested in and to the level that you are comfortable. I enjoy finding new stuff and stuff that might be useful to others on a map.

PS: Mapping addresses unknowingly near the Israeli embassy in London with a large GPS and DSLR camera in hand did get me stopped and briefly questioned :stuck_out_tongue: Makes a good story to tell the other mappers. I was told to put on my high-visibility-vest :wink:


Regarding photos: I use the ones I take for myself alone, basically as a quick way to take a note. And I usually discard them when I have finished my edits. How long do you really want to keep a crooked photo of a street name sign or a park bench?

Regarding wearing something with high visibility: I do the reverse. I try to make myself as inconspicuous as possible. Just wandering along absorbed in texting my friends is a pretty good way to look invisible.

For streets and roads, I often use the video from my dash cam. I don’t know what you technical skill set is or what brand/type of dash cam you have if any. But I have some scripts that will convert my dash cam videos into a set of geo-referenced photos which I can use in JOSM. I cannot get street numbers for regular houses (out of field and/or too small for the camera) but I can get lane count, turn lanes, traffic signals, stop/yield signs, speed limits, pavement surface, existence of sidewalks, etc. and in many cases the street name signs. All from just a simple drive down the street. Again, I don’t bother to keep the photos after I am done editing.

While I don’t keep photos I may, however, upload the gpx tracks associated with my surveying trips (both foot and in the car) to OSM to assist others in aligning aerial imagery and to show that a OSM mapper actually went through the area.

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There are many mapping activities, and they complement each other. For example, after drawing building footprints from imagery, a foot survey of addresses and businesses becomes easier. When the businesses are in place you can then draw landuse=retail around it. And so on.

You can map individual trees if you really want to, but it’s a lot faster to draw a crude polygon and call it natural=wood.

You should familiarize yourself with the different imagery layers that are available and which ones are recent, sharper, leaves down, well-aligned, etc. But don’t sweat the offset too much — it’s far better to have buildings that are systematically misaligned than no buildings whatsoever.


I’ll think about the high visibility vest!

Those flyers are awesome! Do you know where the translations are?

and subsequently updated, translated, re-updated and re-translated over the years.

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